Jo Munting reports from our latest MSc field trip, to Bucklebury Common in West Berkshire.
Another Tuesday, another field trip – this time to help with restoring heathland on some of Bucklebury common.
Bucklebury common is one of the largest areas of heathland in West Berkshire. Heathland is an increasingly rare and important habitat. Areas of heathland once stretched from parts of Norfolk and Suffolk across the country to Southern and Western England. The heaths were used by commoners as grazing land for livestock. Locals cut bracken to use as bedding and heather was cut for feed, turfs were used as fuel – the landscape was managed and created a valuable habitat for a huge amount of wildlife. 5000 species of invertebrates have been found on heathland. Half of the species of dragonfly found in the UK have been found on lowland heath.
Lowland heath also houses all six species of reptile found in the UK- adders, grass snake, smooth lizard, slow worms, common lizard as well as the rare sand lizard. Ground nesting birds like nightjars like heathland to nest on.
Heathland is a man-made habitat, probably originating in the bronze age when early settlers began clearing trees. It has since been maintained by people using the heath for bracken, heather and grazing. Heathland is now under threat from development as we build ever more houses and from lack of management . Without management trees like silver birch and scots pine creep in and seed all over the heath. This changes the open heath to scrubby wood and reduces the open flat land favoured by woodlark and nightjars and changes the habitat for many other species.
We were working to remove the birch and Scots pine that had seeded and were invading an area of heath. With such a lot of enthusiastic MSc students we cleared a lot of trees and had some amazing bonfires. The weather was even kind to use this time and we all stayed dry!